I’ve been struggling through James Gleick’s “The Information” and it dawns on me that we are today still trying to figure out how to talk and think about profound technological changes influencing how we find, share, and create “information”. As Gleick points out, the changes are not simply in the tools but, more profoundly, in how we think about and interact with the world.
Case in point, there’s a difference between wanting to learn something and needing to know something. I want to “learn” to play the piano but I need to “know” how to set up my wireless network at home. Although they may seem equally difficult to some people, they are fundamentally different types of efforts.
I have done both but today I can sit down and play the piano but I couldn’t tell you how I set up my network. The “learning” (if that’s the right word) in the latter case involved knowing how to find the needed information, not the retention of that information (which will probably be useless by the time I need it again anyway).
It seems to me that people involved in helping learners would be well served to be thinking about the distinction and its implications in the design of “soft” tools and training.